Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Colombia's "new" paramilitaries

Here is an overview of the principal "emerging criminal groups" in Colombia. The Colombian government refers to them as "Bacrim" (Bandas Criminales), and along with leftist guerrillas they are among the country's principal narcotraffickers. These groups are often called "new paramilitaries" because most are led by former mid-level commanders of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary umbrella organization that underwent a formal demobilization in 2006.

Since then, the following groups have proliferated. Thanks to WOLA Intern Connor Pierson for compiling this overview.

Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles)

Territory:

  • Active in 99 municipalities in 20 departments ranging from inland Norte de Santander (where the name is said to have been first used) to the Caribbean coast of Magdalena and as far south as Nariño on the Pacific coast.

Membership:

  • Up to 4,000 members -- but probably much less as the group appears to be declining.

Leadership:

  • Lacks a cohesive leadership structure and factions often appear to operate individually, taking the name almost along a "franchise" model.
  • Former AUC leader Vicente Castaño, originally of the Córdoba and Urabá bloc (ACCU) is rumored to have been involved in their creation; Castaño is likely dead.

Lineage:

  • High percentage of former AUC members in the group and tends to echo AUC ideology and protect former AUC trafficking routes.
  • In Norte de Santander, members most likely former participants of the Bloque Catatumbo. The group’s presence in Nariño is a product of its absorption of former members of Bloque Libertadores del Sur. Many members of the group in Nariño have recently defected to the Rastrojos.
  • Other former AUC blocs similarly rebranded and resumed many of their previous activities.

Notable Connections

  • Each cell seemingly attempts to secure autonomy over its individual territory without larger alliances.

Recent news:

  • Frequently in the press for the kidnapping and murder of journalists and human rights activists as well as for threats to Colombian and international NGO's.

ERPAC - Popular Revolutionary Antiterrorist Army of Colombia (Ejército Revolucionario Popular Antiterrorista Colombiano)

Territory:

  • Most powerful in the eastern plains, especially municipalities of Casanare, Meta y Guaviare.
  • Operations affect 36 municipalities in 14 departments including the Capital District and Antioquia.

Membership:

  • 2009 estimate by the Colombian military suggested a size of 725 members.
  • Number of municipalities in which the group operates grew significantly after that date.

Leadership:

  • Remains tenuous since the December 25, 2010 killing, by Colombian police, of top leader Pedro Oliveiro Guerrero (alias "Cuchillo" or "Knife").

Lineage

  • Emerged after Oliveiro assassinated former Bloque Centauros Leader José Miguel Arroyave in Meta, the department to the south of Bogotá, in 2005.
  • Drew upon the former AUC bloc's resources.
  • Grew rapidly by developing a partnership with narcotrafficker Daniel "El Loco" Barrera to process coca base in the eastern plains and export the product via Brazil and Venezuela.

Notable Connections:

  • Recent territorial alliances with former rivals in FARC may explain continued expansion despite uncertain leadership.

Recent News:

  • Oliveiro's brother Jesús Guerrero Castillo, alias "Carecuchillo" escaped prison to take over the organization earlier this year but was recaptured shortly after.

Los Paisas (A "Paisa" is someone from the northern Colombian department of Antioquia.)

Territory:

  • Most active in Antioquia (particularly in the north and in Medellín extending to regions south of the city), Cordoba, Sucre, Atlantica and Magdalena.
  • Present in 63 municipalities in 9 departments in all.

Membership:

  • Consists largely of former members of the Oficina de Envigado -- a drug-trafficking organization with origins in Pablo Escobar's Medellín cartel -- and the Mineros Bloc that operated in Antioquia.
  • Accurate estimates regarding the group’s size and cohesion are difficult to make due to its instability of leadership.

Leadership:

  • Plagued by infighting since inception.
  • In 2010, leader Angel de Jesús Pacheco clashed with Cesar A. Torres, alias "Mono Vides," and Rafael Alvarez Piñeda, alias "Chepe," and left to join the Rastrojos along with hundreds of his men.
  • Leadership remains uncertain in the wake of recent arrests.

Lineage:

  • First emerged as a rural militia linked to the criminal syndicate the Oficina de Envigado, led by Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna."
  • Broke away from the Oficina after Berna’s 2008 extradition to the United States.
  • Continues a fierce rivalry with the Urabeños, a group that initially raised tensions with the Oficina with its incursions into the territory surrounding Medellín.

Notable Connections:

  • Authorities also believe some of the smuggling routes controlled by the Paisas provide narcotics to Mexican criminal syndicate the Zetas.
  • The group may also have allied with factions of FARC against Los Urabeños.

Recent News:

  • Luis Fernando Jaramillo Arroyave, alias "Nano," (a supposed founder) was arrested in February.
  • On June 13, Colombian police captured the group’s military chief Jesus Maria Mosquera Mosquera, alias "Sangre." He allegedly had 300 people under his command at the time.

Los Urabeños: a.k.a. Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia

Territory:

  • Power base lies in the Antioquia, Chocó and Córdoba departments.
  • Also a force in La Guajira, Cesar, Santander and cities Medellin and Bogota.
  • Active in 160 municipalities in 17 departments and controls regions of the Caribbean coast and parts of the border with Venezuela and Ecuador.

Membership:

  • Total number of participants is unclear, but relies on at least 1,200 active members.
  • Members often send out additional trained teams to secure areas important to trafficking.
  • Numbers also bolstered by local gangs often contracted by the group.

Leadership:

  • Under control of the Usuga brothers, Juan de Dios and Dario Antonio, since the 2009 imprisonment of Daniel Rendón Herrera (alias "Don Mario").

Lineage:

  • After a falling out with former Centauros leader José Miguel Arroyave, Daniel Rendón Herrera fled to the Urabá region where the paramilitary group of his brother, Freddy Rendón (alias "El Alemán," currently in custody) Bloque Elmer Cardenas, held power.
  • The Elmer Cardenas Bloc demobilized in 2006; Rendón gathered its remnant forces and some of the former Ejército Popular de Liberación (EPL) guerrilla group in order to rapidly expand into southern Córdoba, the Lower Cauca region in northern Antioquia, and parts of Medellín.
  • In the two years prior to Rendón's arrest in 2009, authorities blamed over 3,000 deaths on his forces.

Notable Connections:

  • Urabeños have made recent motions to secure more power in Medellín via an alliance with Maximiliano Bonilla, alias "Valenciano," a member of the disjointed Oficina de Envigado now struggling for control of the region with Erick Vargas, alias "Sebastián", also of the Oficina.

Recent News:

  • In June, Rodrigo Antonio Oquendo Urrego, the "Terror of La Guajira,” was captured by authorities.

Rastrojos

Territory:

  • Expanded rapidly from only six departments in 2008 to more than 22 in 2010 and operates in 185 municipalities. Likely the most powerful "new" paramilitary group as of this writing.
  • Region of control has spread south from Valle del Cauca and Risaralda into the regions bordering Peru and Ecuador and North into Antioquia, Chocó, Caribe, and Norte de Santander.

Membership:

  • Estimates range from 1,200 to 1,500 individuals.
  • Quickly absorbing many former AUC members, and many new recruits, as growth continues.

Leadership:

  • Expanded exponentially since 2009 under Luis Enrique Calle Serna, alias "Comba."

Lineage:

  • Originated in 2002 as an armed wing of the defunct Norte Del Valle drug cartel, during a period of infighting between top capos Wilber Varela, alias 'Jabon.' and Diego Montoya, alias "Don Diego" that pitted Varela's Rastrojos against Montoya's now mostly defunct "Machos."
  • Viewed as more "narco" than paramilitary, and thus not allowed to participate in the AUC demobilization negotiations. Remained active after Varela's murder in 2008 and Montoya's capture in 2007.

Notable Connections:

  • Alleged partnership with the ELN in Cauca and Nariño since 2006.
  • Recent drug-trafficking agreements with FARC in Putumayo and likely elsewhere.
  • Allied with Daniel "El Loco" Barrera Barrera.

Recent News:

  • Important commander Ruberney Vergara Sanabria, alias "Maniquemao," formerly associated with the Aguilas Negras, was captured in Venezuela in May.
  • Increasingly suspected of attempting to eliminate the Oficina de Envigado's Maximiliano Bonilla to seize fuller control of the west coast.